, they Summary: The Jounin Exams have finally arrived; signaling the start of what could be the biggest trial in their lives. Will have they what it takes to continue on their idle, pseudo-romantic relationship and make it out alive? Sasuke/Sakura.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, at all. All the characters belong to Kishimoto Masashi-sensei. The only thing in this story that is mine will be the OCs and the plot itself.
Appraisal of the Diamond
Chapter One – Arrival
The village was deathly quiet today, the beginning of the Jounin Exams. The civilians had enough nightmares from a particular Chuunin Exam to last them one lifetime. The Genin and the other Chuunin were shifty in their movements as they looked every now and then at the direction of the gate they were closest to.
The Jounin were restless as it had been so long since the last time the Jounin Exams were going to be held in Konoha. The Jounin-hopefuls of Konoha were all nervous for the one thing they were preparing for the past year. The sky darkened continuously, as if Mother Nature herself was feeling the same anxiety the Konoha Nin were.
Suddenly, a loud shout from the Jounin on duty came from the South Gate, a large crowd of Chuunin from the different countries all gathering. Successive shouts from the North, East and West Gates came soon after as more and more of the Chuunin began arriving.
"Ano sa, ano sa, why is the air so tense here, Aya-nee-chan?" asked a blonde boy, tugging on the Jounin's sleeve. A grim look was on Aya's face as she watched a rather stoic Kakashi lead his group of Chuunin towards Konoha's grounds.
There were Jounin escorts because of security purposes, as well as to lead them to the Assembly Hall in Hokage Tower. "Aya-nee-chan?" repeated the boy once more as his tugging became weaker and weaker. Seeing that the Jounin wasn't paying attention, he looked at his fellow Chuunin.
"Ne, ne, Sakura-chan, why is the air so tense?" asked the boy towards the pink haired Chuunin beside him. As expected, she did not respond. Looking at the other Chuunin, he snorted. He didn't even want to ask Sasuke about this.
"Naruto, tell Sakura and Sasuke to go to the Assembly Hall as soon as all of the Chuunin from the South Gate have entered Konoha," whispered Kakashi as he passed by, his hand barely grazing against Naruto's shoulder. The fox boy blinked and nodded as his ocean blue eyes followed the trailing figure of the Jounin.
Naruto felt himself shiver at the intensity of the atmosphere. Even during life-threatening battles, Naruto never found himself to be this nervous. For some reason, he did now. Maybe, the rumors of how almost all the Chuunin who were trying to become Jounin die after the First Exam got to him.
Snapping out of his reverie, Naruto whispered Kakashi's instructions to his pink haired teammate and told her to pass it on to Sasuke. Sakura nodded slowly as she whispered the same words to the other Uchiha. Finally, the very last Chuunin, from Iwagakure, had stepped into the borders of Konohagakure no Sato. Without another word, Sakura and Sasuke had turned around and began to walk towards the tower.
Aya's hand brushed slightly against Sakura's, the only gesture the Jounin could do to wish her former student good luck. The few civilians who were outside, looked at the pair, mouthing good luck and praying silently that they would live. They couldn't afford to lose the last sane Uchiha and one of the best Medical Specialists in this Jounin Exam. They were far too critical in Konoha's military strength to be lost to death's grasp.
The slow walking Chuunin had noticed the addition in their number, their gazes flitting from hitai-ate to hitai-ate. The Konoha symbol had joined the crowd of Cloud, Mist, Stone and Sand. This year, only Chuunin from the Five Great Villages had decided to participate.
"Good luck, Sasuke-kun," whispered Sakura, almost inaudibly, as she continued to trail after the Uchiha. The familiar image of the Uchiha Clan's symbol hovered in front of her as they continued walking. A somewhat nostalgic smile found its way to her face.
She could always count on seeing that symbol whenever she looked up. It had been that way since they were Genin and it was still happening now, and they were Chuunin. She didn't want that to happen when they became Jounin, be it in this year's Exams or not.
"You've worked hard for this and of all the people I know, you deserve to become Jounin the most," she added her voice still soft. Sasuke merely grunted and shrugged, Sakura nodding in understanding.
Sasuke never really said anything and knowing him for the past five years had helped her comprehend the way he spoke and reacted. Soon enough, they found themselves inside the Assembly Hall, crowded with Chuunin, two or three Jounin stationed at every exit.
The Chuunin from each village had begun flocking towards their fellow Nin, safer in the presence of familiar people. Sasuke and Sakura were grouped with other Konoha Chuunin, none they recognized however.
Shikamaru had already become a Jounin. Chouji and Ino had decided to wait another year or two before deciding to try for themselves. Hinata's father wanted to train her longer and hone her skills as a Hyuuga. Kiba and Shino had really planned to participate in the next one. Naruto was most likely going on yet another training session with Jiraiya, opting to participating in the next one like Kiba and Shino. Tenten and Lee were on a mission, forcing them to take the next Jounin Exam if they were even planning to take it. That left only the two of them to try their luck in this year's exams.
It was especially convenient for them that it was going to be in Konoha, their home. Whispers started to grow louder when a familiar blonde made her presence known to them all.
"Welcome to Konohagakure no Sato," she announced, her tawny eyes gleaming under the artificial light. All the Konoha Nin stood up straight in respect as the female made her way towards the table that had been set up for her. The other Chuunin narrowed their eyes, wondering who the female was.
"I, as the Godaime Hokage of Konoha, would like to extend our thanks for your cooperation upon entering the borders of the Fire Country," spoke Tsunade, her voice exercising authority. The whispers had suddenly stopped when they found out her identity.
"The Kazekage, Raikage, Mizukage and Tsuchikage will be arriving in time for the beginning of the Opening Ceremonies but for now, you will have to be comfortable in Konoha without them," explained Tsunade, her fingers drumming idly on the tabletop.
"There are five separate inns prepared for you during your stay. Four inns will hold twenty-two Chuunin and the last will hold only twenty. Copies of the listing are being passed around as we speak, any questions?"
No hands dared to shoot up until Sasuke raised his. Eyes of various colors and shades lifted to the tanned skin that covered the Uchiha's skeletal frame.
"Hokage-sama, even the Konoha Chuunin will be staying in the inns assigned?" asked Sasuke. An eyebrow rose slightly as Tsunade focused her attention on the Uchiha. Murmurs began to rise once more as the other Chuunin noticed the presence of the Uchiha.
They had never really seen for themselves the survivor of the Uchiha Massacre ten years prior but they knew that he lived in Konoha. The killer wandered around the world as a member of the Akatsuki.
In response to his question, Tsunade nodded slowly.
"May I ask why, Hokage-sama?" asked Sasuke, his voice merely a drawl. The Jounin twitched in apprehension, with the exception of Kakashi, as they noted the lack of respect Sasuke had for the Godaime. Tsunade shrugged it off; knowing this was the way Sasuke had acted to begin with.
"Yes, even the Konoha Chuunin. You will stay there so we can keep track of you and make sure none of you run amuck in Konoha when the day is over," explained Tsunade as she tucked a stray strand of her hair behind her. The Uchiha nodded slowly, silently saying his barest thanks.
"Any other questions?" asked Tsunade as she faced the rest of the Chuunin. Slowly, more hands began shooting up, seeing as this would probably be the only time they would be able to talk with the Godaime and clarify their queries about what was going to happen during the Jounin Exams. Patiently, Tsunade answered all of their questions until none were left.
"All Konohagakure Chuunin, follow Mitarashi Anko. All Sunagakure Chuunin, follow Mikizuki Aya. All Iwagakure Chuunin, follow Maito Gai. All Kirigakure Chuunin, follow Hatake Kakashi. All Kumogakure Chuunin, follow Yuuhi Kurenai."
The Streets of Konoha
After all the Chuunin had found out where they were going to sleep for the duration of the Jounin Exams, they were free to go and wander about for the rest of the day. As long as they had their keys and a vague idea of how to get back to the inn, they were fine.
The opening ceremonies would take place tomorrow, where each of the Kage would sign an agreement in the warring villages between them would have a temporary ceasefire during the Exams. Though there were allies between them, there were also rivals.
Since the attack of the Sand four years ago and the appointment of Gaara as the Kazekage just a year back, an alliance had been formed between them and the Leaf. Now, it was stronger than ever.
The Cloud and the Mist were allies; the latter needing informants in the main continent while the former needing a safe passage to get to its island clients. Their bond was strong, both sides benefiting greatly from the alliance.
The Stone was allied with smaller hidden villages, many of them found within the Earth Country, fortifying its defenses within its own country. With the number of small allies the Stone had, it was hard to penetrate the outer forces in order to attack the main village.
Despite that, the Chuunin all seemed to take no notice of the alliances of their villages. Even with their fellow ninjas, they seemed to harbor hostile feelings, taking an every-man-for-himself sort of mentality. Death rates were incredibly high in the Jounin Exams that each village took a heavy blow after every one of them. Some forty, perhaps even fifty, Chuunin die only after the first exam. It was no wonder why they all wanted to save their own skins and no other.
And though most of the Konoha Chuunin felt nervous, getting even more affected by the growing number of jittery Chuunin within their village walls, there were a few who felt a little hopeful for this chance of a lifetime.
Still, some of them happened to look like nothing too big of a deal was happening around them. Or they chose to hide it. Two of those happened to be Haruno Sakura and Uchiha Sasuke, walking towards the South Gate of the village.
"I wonder when Gaara-san will be coming. He has the most ties to the village out of all of them," asked Sakura to herself, surprisingly walking alongside of the stoic Uchiha. At her words, Sasuke raised an eyebrow, a slight pang of jealousy pulsing within him. "I went on a mission with Kakashi-sensei and Naruto to the Sand before going to you."
"You never even met him before the Chuunin Exams five years ago," said Sasuke somewhat pointedly, a bit too much for his own tastes. It seemed that jealousy was indeed showing its ugly green head, no matter how much he wanted to deny it. "What made you suddenly care about the current Kazekage?"
"That mission happened to involve saving his life and he was pretty thankful. I've gone on a few missions to the Sand myself since we brought you back and he insisted that I stay in his house to rest before heading back here," explained Sakura, a mischievous glint in her eyes. She was beginning to like this relationship she had with the infamous Uchiha Sasuke-kun.
"…You slept in his house?" asked Sasuke dumbly, his brow furrowing in annoyance. What power did he have over her to make her come home straight after a mission? Her family or her boyfriend had, mostly out of worry for her and wanting to see her home already, safe and sound, but he was neither of those.
"In the guest room of his house," she corrected as she rubbed her arms, a habit she had formed whenever she got a little nervous. "Temari-san and Kankuro-san were there too. It's not like I was there with Gaara-kun alone."
When she said that, he managed to breathe a little easier. Frowning as they continued walking, he began to think that desire, desire for anything, was the world's real devil. Right now, he was soundly getting screwed by his sudden desire to be so much more to her, yet so much less.
"We should be at the South Gate in five minutes," spoke Sasuke suddenly, trying to change the subject. He had walked this path so many times since he had come back from the Sound. One of the many things he had agreed to in order to be accepted back into the village was having extended shifts at any one of the four gates.
"Mmm," replied Sakura as she let her arms hang freely beside her. As she did so, their fingers accidentally brushed against each other. Though the moment was brief, they felt it nonetheless. Yet, for some reason, they didn't say anything about it.
At the South Gate
There weren't many people gathered there to see Naruto and Jiraiya off on their next training mission. Though Naruto would have preferred for the start of the training mission to have been set on some other date, ones that would actually pull through were rare. He couldn't let this chance slip by.
"Anyway, good luck to you, Sakura-chan, Sasuke-teme! I'll be rooting for you even if I'm not here," said Naruto, scratching the back of his head nervously. "I really would have wanted to watch you guys but Ero Sennin here is finally going to train me!"
"Stop calling me that, Naruto!" shouted Jiraiya, punching Naruto on his head, making the blonde cower in pain. "Don't ever call me that, Sasuke-kun. I'm no Ero Sennin! I'm a wandering Toad Master who happens to write great literature!"
"Are you really?" asked Sasuke, doubt dripping excessively from his words. There was no questioning Jiraiya about his skills as one of the three legendary Sennin but what surprised Sasuke was that he demeaned himself to writing the perverted best seller series, Icha Icha Paradise. What disturbed him even more that his own Jounin instructor was a big fan of the series.
"Sakura-chan, you're looking prettier than ever!" complimented Jiraiya, focusing his attention on the female Chuunin. "Make sure that you become a Jounin and when you turn eighteen next year, let me gather my research for my books from you okay?"
"OVER MY DEAD BODY!" shouted Sakura, doing one of her amazing imitations of Tsunade by punching Jiraiya in the face. Tsunade had definitely rubbed off on Sakura who wasn't afraid of displaying the strength she had learned from the female Sennin.
"Sakura-chan, don't kill Ero Sennin!" pleaded Naruto, looking at his former teammate. His lower lip was twitching slightly, nervous that he might say the wrong things. "I need him alive so I can train!"
"Naruto, do one of your Oiroke no Jutsu when you can okay?" asked Jiraiya, rubbing his bloody and broken nose. "It's the least you can do for me since I'm training you!"
"DAMN IT ERO SENNIN! CAN'T YOU BE SERIOUS FOR ONCE!" accused Naruto, pointing a finger at Jiraiya. At his words, the Toad Master slumped, disappointed that neither Sakura nor Naruto would appreciate playing a crucial role to the development of his next book.
"…Oiroke no… Jutsu," repeated Sasuke, the already deep frown on his face deepening further. Was the one he deemed worthy enough to be his rival low enough to sink into making such perverted techniques? He could never understand Naruto's frame of mind to begin with but this was just really pushing it.
"Sasuke-kun! You seem to know of it! Can you help me?" asked Jiraiya, his personality brightening up considerably when he heard Sasuke say those words. Naruto and Sakura were in shock at what Jiraiya was even suggesting!
"Go to hell," he replied, turning around on his heel and began to walk away. It seemed that spending those two and a half years with Orochimaru removed what little qualm that might have been left in him to answer back to an adult. Suddenly stopping, Sasuke looked over his shoulder, his dark onyx eyes flickering from black to red, as he faced Naruto.
"You better come back stronger when the Jounin Exams are done. I'll give you the incentive of needing to catch up to me some more. I'll be a Jounin when you're back."
A wide grin found its way to Naruto's face as he lifted his hand, his fingers forming a thumbs up sign. Their friendship was weird, crazy, unlikely, and occasionally turbulent enough for both of them to want to kill each other. But, in the end, they respected each other for their worth as a ninja of Konoha.
"Come on, Sakura. We should be getting back to the inn," said Sasuke, like he was her boyfriend. Willingly Sakura nodded and began following him but not before patting Naruto in the back.
And just like Naruto's friendship with Sasuke was weird, Sakura's relationship with him was just as crazy. They were more than friends but certainly much less than lovers. They were probably good, close friends who could fool the world that they were dating. Though it seemed that Sakura would prefer for them to be a lot closer than this, she was content with where their relationship was currently standing.
And thus begins another long fanfic written by yours truly just for you all!
Appraisal of the Diamond is considerably shorter than PPV (plus or minus nine chapters) but that doesn't mean it's any less action packed than the first installment of the Vision Trilogy!
Appraisal of the Diamond is actually a very symbolic name. To appraise is to determine the value of anything. A diamond, like all other gems and jewels, needs to be appraised, especially a diamond found in the rough.
Sakura is that diamond and the Feudal Lords in Konoha as well as the high-ranking ninjas will be the one to appraise her. The Jounin Exams will be the criteria she has to pass in order to be deemed a good diamond.
And yes, I did make Naruto go through a long training mission. Most of this fanfic will feature Sasuke, Sakura, the other Chuunin taking the exams, and the Jounin who are directly involved in the Exams. There will be hardly any time for me to write about the other characters.
And hopefully, I'll be able to update this, as well as The Guise of Love, as faithfully as I can! And here's to months of good reading, for both me and you, with Appraisal of the Diamond!
Next Chapter: Chapter Two – The Opening Ceremony
Chapter Preview: On top of the Hokage Tower were the five Kage, assembled for this highly auspicious event. While Tsunade and Gaara wore only the hats given to the Kage of their respective village, the other three were more formal, wearing the full robes as well.
It was rare to see the five of them gathered and when they were, it usually meant there was something big happening. Tsunade the Hokage, Gaara the Kazekage, Ryuuji the Mizukage, Sadao the Raikage, and Nozomi the Tsuchikage were there to signal the start the Jounin Exams.